What’s Causing the Tightness in Your Throat?

We’ve all been through it; a moment of intense nervousness that leaves you feeling like you’re swallowing around a lump due to the tightness in your throat. The sensation that the throat is closing up can be very upsetting especially I you aren’t sure why it’s happening. The first thought that many of us have is usually along the lines of: what if the swelling doesn’t stop and I can’t breathe? Being human, this is a natural concern but you can comfort yourself by remembering that in most cases, this won’t happen. There are a lot of reasons why you might start to suffer from tightness in your throat and reading up on these causes can definitely help you find some peace of mind.


It is very common for a “lump” to suddenly pop up in your throat during times of stress or fear. Throat tightness is a likely symptom to crop up when you’re feeling nervous, worried, or anxious. Other signs of an anxiety include sweating, the sudden formation of a headache, tightness of the muscles (especially in the throat, neck, chest, and shoulders), diarrhea, flatulence, inability to fall and/or stay asleep, and muscle spasms. Granted that you might not experience all of these symptoms every time you get nervous or anxious, but chances are likely that you will experience a few of them.

An individual who suffers from a lot of those symptoms on a regular basis or if they seem to be triggered by very little stress may have what is called an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is generally defined as having unrealistic worries about things that may or may not happen. These are usually far-fetched scenarios but an individual with an anxiety disorder genuinely feels that they must mentally and physically prepare for anything and everything that could happen. An anxiety disorder could also be defined as experiencing fear and worry for no reason. As you might guess, this type of disorder is very draining and can create a host of other symptoms such as migraines, restlessness, and fatigue. Sometimes these symptoms can crop up in the form of attacks, in which case the sufferer might experience stomach cramps, nausea, hyperventilation, involuntary shaking of the body, and extreme panic or fear.

“Normal” anxiety, such as what you might experience before a test, waiting to see the dentist, or stress about financial strain usually goes away on its own once the stressful situation is over. Maintaining these symptoms is usually done by practicing calming techniques and reminding oneself that everything will work out and things will be fine once it’s all over. For a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder, it is much more important to practice calming techniques and a severe disorder may call for therapy and medication.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Swollen lymph nodes may so be a possible cause behind the tightness in your throat. The lymph nodes are oval-shaped glands that can be found in various regions in the body. The series of lymph nodes located in the neck, just under each side of the jaw, may swell up and put pressure on the throat which can be felt when you try to swallow or when you gently press upon the sides of your neck. The reason behind this swelling could be caused by a number of things. The most common cause of swollen lymph nodes is a recent cold or infection (particularly a viral infection). A sore throat, trauma to the neck or throat, or wounds in the mouth or inside the throat can also cause the nearby lymph nodes to increase in size.

Having swollen lymph nodes isn’t usually a problem in itself—it is more or less used as a guide to determining what the underlying condition is. It may be necessary to go to the doctor if your lymph nodes remain swollen for two weeks or if the tightness in your throat worsens or persists for more than a few weeks. Weight loss, a long-lasting fever, or if the lymph nodes feel solid under your skin would be other symptoms suggesting that you should see a doctor.


The tightness in your throat can also be caused by acid reflux. What many of us refer to as “heartburn” is a condition that has nothing to do with the heart. Certain foods, the amount of food that is eaten, or the time of day or night that we eat can all be triggers for acid reflux. This “trigger” causes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to spasm. Ordinarily this sphincter only opens to allow food into the stomach; however when it involuntarily opens while food is in the stomach it can allow stomach acid to backflow over the LES and into the esophagus. This accounts for a host of nasty symptoms such as a burning sensation in the chest where the rib cage parts, burning and discomfort in the throat, tightness of the throat, and a bad taste in the mouth. Foods that are high in fat, sugar, or caffeine have a definite link to heartburn, as does eating too much food in on sitting and eating shortly before lying down.

Heartburn can usually be treated using over the counter antacid products. Better than treatment, however, is prevention. Try to avoid spicy, fatty, and sugary foods, limit your caffeine intake, and try not to overeat or eat too close to bed time.